Winter is the perfect time for family adventures in small town Iowa. Although my family loves to explore nature and be outside, we have found many ways to enjoy the indoors during the cold, snowy months. We recently spent an afternoon in Cherokee, Iowa at the Sanford Museum and Planetarium, where we found an adventure around every corner.
A block away from Cherokee’s main street, the museum was easy to find. We explored the main floor of the museum for quite some time. We learned about the Native Cultures of North America (this gallery changes several times a year, so it may be different during your visit), viewed a room beautifully furnished in mid-nineteenth century style artifacts, and discovered the history of Cherokee. My girls enjoyed checking out the art on display which currently features drawings of animals (artist changes monthly).
The lower level of the museum was a treasure-trove of fun exhibits for children and adults alike. Fossils and artifacts told stories of early Northwest Iowa inhabitants. Not only were there neat things for us to see, there were plenty of hands-on activities for kids. We got to see a rock glow in the dark, make animal tracks while learning about native mammals and birds, and dig for fossils. Areas designed to learn about space travel and dinosaurs were also part of the lower level.
Even with an hour and a half of exploring, we weren’t able to see everything before it was time for a planetarium presentation. (These presentations typically occur at 2 PM on the last Sunday of the month or by special appointment; be sure to check their website for more details). This was a real treat. Before heading into the planetarium, we listened to a program about the constellations. This part got a tad bit long for my two five-year olds, but I found it very interesting.
The planetarium was impressive. It was the first in the state of Iowa; amazing for a town with around 5,200 residents. In the middle of the afternoon, we were able to see the night sky without buildings or lights obstructing the view. As the lights went down, ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ filled the round, cement room. We learned how to find the constellations and special stars. My girls are still talking about the red star ‘Betelgeuse’ (it sounds like ‘Beetle Juice’). I know we’ll be looking for it in real sky sometime soon!
Our girls didn’t mind the dark and did a great job sitting through both presentations. That being said, next time I’ll probably leave them at home for the planetarium experience. The content would be perfect for older children and those not afraid of the dark (some kids in attendance weren’t so keen on being in a dark room). The planetarium (and museum) would make a great activity on a Northwest Iowa road trip with friends or even a day date (think- star gazing with a special someone).
We enjoyed our afternoon exploring the museum and loved seeing the stars. A summer Girls Adventure in the quaint town of Cherokee is already in the works and will surely include a stop at the Sanford Museum and Planetarium. Admission is free and the fun is endless, so be sure to add the Sanford Museum and Planetarium to your bucket list!